The role of the interdomain B linker in the activation of the XylR protein of Pseudomonas putida



In the presence of toluene and other structural analogues, the enhancer binding protein XylR activates the σ54 promoter Pu of the TOL (toluene degradation) plasmid pWW0 of Pseudomonas putida. Introduction of amino acid changes Val-219Asp and Ala-220Pro, which enter a proline kink at the interdomain region (B linker) between the A (signal reception) module and the central portion of XylR, originated a protein with unforeseen properties. These included a minor ability to activate Pu in the absence of aromatic effectors, a much higher responsiveness to m-xylene and a significant response to a large collection of aromatic inducers. Such changes could not be attributed to variations in XylR expression levels or to the fortuitous creation of a novel promoter, but to a genuine change in the properties of the activator. Structural predictions suggested that the mutation entirely disrupted an otherwise probable coiled-coil structure. A second directed mutant within the same region consisting of a major replacement of amino acids A220–N221 by the peptide HHHR produced an even more exacerbated phenotype. These data support a model in which the linker B region influences the effector profile by modifying at a distance the operative shape of the effector pocket and fixing the protein in an intermediate step of the activation process.